Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Step 3:Bare Bones of DIALOG

Here's another edition of Examining REwriting.

We've explored REwriting in STEP 1 ~ deciding which is needed: REwriting or REvising. STEP 2 ~ covered simplifying: breaking the story down to scene by scene using index cards. STEP 3 ~ organized the information you gathered on those index cards and showed how to use them in a split screen.

Today, I'm sharing with you what I've learned about dialog through my REwriting process. I'm giving you an exercise to try. Not just a writing exercise to use in honing your skills separate from your current WIP, but to use while writing, drafting, revising, or rewriting.

Try what I call a  Bare Bones Dialog Trail. Here's how it works, or at least how I did it.

1. I needed to bridge the gap between the scene/dialog that existed from my original completed manuscript (not draft, remember; we're talking about rewriting) and the new needs of my story. Lots of the dialog was still valid. But just the bare naked bones.

2. Taking one scene, I stripped all tags off the dialog and axed any dialog that didn't apply to the story any longer. I typed that out. Just those bare naked bones.

3. Then, while walking around the room, I started with the first piece of dialog and basically had a conversation with myself and the other characters. As I came up with something useful, I rushed to the laptop and typed it out. Just the bare naked bones.

Here's an example of how it worked while I used this approach: (I'll only give you a snippet, not to bore you or make this too long.)  But make note: while I wrote, keeping it bare, I imagined what would be said and sometimes not even thinking who (which character) should say it.

Setting: Main character, Ana, is dropped off at her new prep school by her Dad. She's an empath ~ can see and sense life energy (only some in her case.) 

“I’m Dad! Nice to meet you all.”
“Kill me, would you?”
“Hi, I’m Sara.”
“You, girl, know how to make an entrance."
“Just saying.”
“Nice T.”
“Hey, thanks. Sara thinks it’s immature.”
“Call me Ana, Finn.”
“Will do.”
“You’re moving in kind of late."
“Yeah, I was…had stuff going on.” 

Seems confusing. But I knew what was going on in my brain and you will, too, when you try it. Once I was satisfied, I began adding tags ~ color, movement, sounds and senses to the scene. Slowly, the scene became not a mere robotic conversation but a living, breathing--touchable scene.

Here's the result of this little piece of the scene:

The bear hug he gives me is over-exaggerated, but that’s because he notices a group of boys nearby. I squirm out of his grip and consider yelling that he’s a stalker. Maybe someone will take pity on me and haul him out of here. He finally steps into the vehicle. I rock on the curb of the walkway but stop quickly, fear wadding in my throat. There’s no gulping it down.

“Dad…” I warn.

The truck lights flare like fireworks, minus the smell of summer and hotdogs. The sirens blare. I practically jump out of my skin, my jaw clenching and my gaze stabbing him.

He chuckles and yells at the small crowd gathering, “I’m Dad! Nice to meet you all.”

I’m too stunned to move. Maybe no one will notice me; it is getting dark.

“Impressive,” a girl’s voice pitches over my shoulder.

Pulling a pen from my satchel, I offer it to her. “Kill me, would you?”

She laughs, making her dark curls bounce. “Hi, I’m Sara.” Her toffee-toned skin glows in a wake of bells, whistles, and flashing lights as Dad drives away.

“You, girl, know how to make an entrance,” says the boy wrapping his arms around Sara like a soft taco.

“Finn,” Sara scolds him. Her aura pulsates softly, but a bold line frames it. I think she’s kind but probably a perfectionist, not sure yet.

“Just saying.” Finn sounds insulted and slings his arm over Sara’s shoulder, her designer tank top hugging her curvaceous figure. His lights are green and way too bright, which screams Hyper! maybe even ADHD.

My eyes trace over the words Blame the Dog printed on his shirt. “Nice T.”

“Hey, thanks.” He pinches the cotton and whispers, “Sara thinks it’s immature.”

I titter and slide my pen back into my satchel next to my little pink book. Finn’s a lot like Josh, even with the same copper hair only shorter and spiked. “Call me Ana, Finn.”

“Will do.”

“You’re moving in kind of late,” Sara says.

“Yeah, I was…had stuff going on.” Pictures of Katee lying in her hospital bed, where I should be, are all I see.


Breaking it down like this, slowing it down, can be incredibly valuable, showing you sparks in your dialog that you might have missed by merely writing the entire scene out as you envision it. Of course, I've been doing this to meet my ROW80 PROGRESS goals. I'm almost halfway through on beta's edits. It's going extremely well. I'm please. And for my amazingly supportive co-writers progress, go HERE: Susan's PROGRESSMargo's PROGRESSC.Lee's PROGRESS.

The Alleyway has got some WINNERS!! Congrats goes to ~ Katrina is the winner of Kelly Hashway's MAY THE BEST DOG WIN Swag!!! & ~ Miranda Paul is the winner of a FULL Picture Book Critique!!

Also: My fellow YAlitchatter and Author Kim Baccellia is auctioning off a Signed copy of her book CROSSED OUT and a critique of two chapters. Great opportunity! Head over and check it out.


  1. Wow. I've never thought of doing that, but I can see how it could make things better. Thanks for the demonstration, and -- really cool scene!

  2. Wow, really loved the filled out snippet!

  3. This is how I write a lot of my WiP. I write the dialogue first then fill in. I love how you filled it in.

  4. Never seen it done that way - interesting!

  5. Interesting idea. The contrast between your two examples is striking. Glad you are progressing. I'm over a third done with my revisions.

  6. This is awesome. It's exactly how I write. Bare bones, then I colour it in :o) Love your writing, btw, you're brilliant. :o)

  7. I like this idea. Never thought to do it this way. I'm game to giving it a shot though! Thanks!

  8. Very helpful tip. I usually find I'm doing this backwards.

  9. Ah the rewriting. It makes all the difference. =)

  10. Very interesting. It was awesome to see just the bare bones and then how it all comes together. Great post!

    And congrats to the winners!

  11. Interesting idea, Sheri!

    Personally my writing has way too much description, and never enough dialog, so I find myself trying very hard to add more lines, and make it natural, the way people actually speak.

    Dialog is probably my biggest weak point. I can pull it off, but I have to really work at it.

  12. This sounds like an interesting method. I think I'll try it! And I loved your excerpt by the way! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. I do the same thing, though I do it as part of my revisions to make sure the character voices are all different. When I'm writing dialog, I tend to get caught up in the dialog only (it's one of the easier parts of writing for me) and, as with the rest of my book, need to go back and add description later. Great post!

  14. Great advice Sheri, thanks for sharing!

  15. Oh, I'm going to have to try that!

  16. I loved seeing the bare bones version and then the fleshed out version. Neat process! Your dialogue is delicious! loved the soft taco reference and I can sure relate to that embarrassing dad drop off scene (though in my case it was my mum)

  17. Holy cow, Sheri! I tweeted this puppy before I even finished reading it! :-)

  18. What a great idea! Get rid of almost everything and add only what you need. Thanks for the post!

  19. Loved what you shared. That's an interesting way of working with dialogue. I'm not sure how that will work for me, but I will definitely keep this in mind. Thanks.

  20. Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I'm always on the lookout for new techniques.

  21. I'm so glad this is helpful! I wasn't sure whether to include an example or not, but kept track as I wrote it. :)

  22. Interesting technique--totally works differently once you add the beats.

  23. CONTEST....My blog Amish Stories is having its first ever contest this week. The First prize winner will win 2 tickets to tour the farm where the 1985 move "Witness" staring Harrison Ford and Kelly Mcgillis was made in Strasburg,Pa . This farm is now Amish owned, and the family has given permission for folks to tour their farm. This may be the last time anyone will be able to walk and see the same things that Harrison Ford and the other actors saw during the making of "Witness". The Witness tour should last about 2.5 hours. In addition to the Witness farm tour tickets, 1st prize winner will also receive 2 tickets for Jacobs choice. There will also be a 2nd place prize, which will be 2 tickets for the Amish Homestead. Please go to My blog www.AmishStorys.com for contest details, and more information on the prizes. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county.

  24. Loved your example! I've never heard of doing this before, but now I'll have to try it.

    Also, I wanted to let you know I've awarded you the Irresistably Sweet Blog Award over at www.literally-ya.blogspot.com. Great post and congrats!

  25. jervaise brooke hamsterJune 8, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    Sheri, i desperately want to bugger you senseless.

  26. Great tips. I love fleshing out dialog.

  27. Wow, great post! I love how you work, girl! Thanks for joining our MC Blogfest, you rock! Can't wait to read your entry. :D

  28. I like it!
    my writing often begins with the bare bones - because it always makes sense in my mind... then I have to add the tags to make it readable.


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